Foles' return may be later than expected

Quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and the injured Nick Foles on the sideline.
Quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and the injured Nick Foles on the sideline. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff)
Posted: November 28, 2014

Those hoping that St. Nick will arrive in late December may be disappointed.

No, not that guy.

Nick Foles hasn't yet been scheduled for a follow-up exam on his broken collarbone, although it is likely to happen next week, and the original prognosis that he would be out for six to eight weeks could be an optimistic one, according to sources close to the situation.

His left clavicle has to be "more than" healed because of the type of fracture Foles suffered on Nov. 2 against the Texans, one source said. The bone has to be strong enough for the Eagles quarterback to sustain contact, otherwise another blow could cause further harm.

Foles throws righthanded, and has increasingly thrown in practice since the injury. His motion has looked effortless to the naked eye, but it is hardly an indication of his recovery. Foles didn't need surgery, however, and if the injury were deemed serious enough, the Eagles would have placed him on season-ending injured reserve.

The Eagles recently worked out free-agent quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Thad Lewis (he signed with Houston this week), obviously in case they have to shut down Foles, but it is unlikely he ever heads to IR with the playoffs still very much in the picture.

"I know he's working extremely hard from a rehab standpoint," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said on Monday, "but the whole decision will be made based upon what the bone is, and they'll get that X-rayed at some point in time."

Best-case scenario, Foles is back for the Dec. 20 game at the Redskins. Even if he is cleared to play for the penultimate game of the regular season or the finale at the New York Giants on Dec. 28, it could be difficult for Kelly to make the switch.

The Eagles still have three games, of course, before they have to entertain such thoughts, but Mark Sanchez hasn't made a strong case either way. He's gone 2-1 as a starter and steered the Eagles to victory after Foles left in the Texans game, but turnovers have marred his successes.

Sanchez has eight turnovers (six interceptions and two fumbles) in less than four games. Foles, in just over seven games, had 13 turnovers (10 interceptions and three fumbles). What Sanchez does over this three-game stretch, starting with Thursday's showdown against the Cowboys in Dallas, followed by home dates vs. the Seahawks and the Cowboys again, could make Foles' return all but moot.

If he plays well and the Eagles go 3-0, then there would be no cause to "rush" Foles back. If Sanchez and the Eagles drop all three, their postseason hopes may be all but shattered. More than likely, fortunes of both Sanchez and the Eagles over the next three games will fall somewhere in the gray middle.

Foles has been preparing as if he will play sometime this season.

"He's involved in every single meeting. He's out there on the field. He's throwing and running," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "He's mentally in-tune with everything we're doing, so that when he does come back, he's in that rhythm."

But Foles, like so many injured players, has drifted into the background. He hasn't spoken publicly since he broke his collarbone and has declined interview requests.

"He hates the spotlight," said linebacker Emmanuel Acho, one of Foles' best friends on the team. "So that's why I don't think it's that big of a deal, or that big of a deal for him. It's the situation he's in now. It's kind of the hand he's been dealt.

"He just has to step aside now and just cheer guys on, help guys in any way that he can, and then when his opportunity comes again, capitalize on it."

Like Sanchez, Foles has been more than adequate, but for every five great plays there's been a head-scratching decision or errant throw. Some had suggested that Sanchez's tenure as the starter would be a litmus test for how another quarterback would perform in Kelly's offense, but there hasn't been a clear-cut answer.

If anything, the four-game sample has magnified the differences between the two. Sanchez is seemingly more fluid moving in and out of the pocket and throwing on the move, and running the up-tempo offense at a smoother pace.

Foles may not have an Aaron Rodgers-like cannon, but he appears to have more arm strength than Sanchez and has an easier time completing difficult throws like the 20-yard out. At times when Sanchez has tried to put more mustard on his throws, his mechanics have seemingly been off and the ball has sailed.

"He can make all the throws that Nick can make," Shurmur said. "We still have a small sample size of what Mark can do. So we'll hold on that question."

Sanchez has had more success passing to slot receiver Jordan Matthews (21 catches for 362 yards and four touchdowns) over the middle than he has receiver Jeremy Maclin (23 receptions for 278 yards and two touchdowns) on the outside. Maclin's per-catch average with Sanchez (12.1.) is lower than it was with Foles (17.6).

"Mark's really comfortable working in between the hashes, and that's a lot of what Jordon does very well," Maclin said. "That's just kind of been the flow of the games. That's just what teams are going to give us, and that's what we're going to take."

At least, until - and if - Foles returns.


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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